What Goes on During Holy Week?

We are about to enter the last week of Lent and the most sacred time of year in the Christian faith:  Holy Week.

To prevent you from being one of those who only realizes that “something’s up” this week because “The Ten Commandments” is on TV again for some reason (that reason being the Jewish Passover which happens to coincide with Holy Week–I will say that it is a much better movie than “The Greatest Story Ever Told” which gives the most depressing portrayal of Jesus imaginable!), Holy week chronicles the last days of Jesus’ life leading up to his death and resurrection.

Here’s the shorthand on the observances during Holy Week:

Palm Sunday: This day commemorates Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey surrounded by a crowd of followers waving palm branches and proclaiming him to be the Messiah.  It is recorded in all four of the canonical gospels.  It is also called “Passion Sunday” to allow churches the choice of placing emphasis on Jesus’ agony of arrest and crucifixion instead of or in addition to the palm procession.

Holy Monday:  The gospel accounts are not in agreement on the events that occurred in Jesus’ life between Sunday and Thursday, but on Holy Monday Christians devotionally remember Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple (when he drove the money changers out of the courtyard), and how he responded to questioning by religious authorities.  Jesus’ anointing at Bethany is also remembered on this day or on Holy Tuesday.

Holy Tuesday:  This is a day when people of faith remember the times in John’s gospel when Jesus predicted his own death.  These passages are found in John 12:20-36 and John 13:21-38.

Holy Wednesday:  This day is sometimes called “Spy Wednesday” because the story of Judas arranging his betrayal of Jesus is remembered.  Judas is considered to be a “spy” among the disciples because he was working on behalf of Jesus’ enemies who sought to have him killed.  Biblical devotion of Matthew 26:14-24 is kept on Holy Wednesday.

Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday:  This is the remembrance of the Last Supper that Jesus shared with his disciples and his proclamation of the commandment to “Love one another as I have loved you.”  Some churches also re-enact the foot washing that Jesus gave his disciples as an example of servanthood.  The liturgy for this day often includes a time of shadows or “Tenebrae” in which candles and lights are extinguished to symbolize the gathering darkness of Jesus’ crucifixion.

Holy Friday or Good Friday: This is the remembrance of Jesus’ crucifixion.  It is a stark day with observances typically between the hours of noon and 3:00 when it is believed Jesus hung on the cross.  Liturgically, the Christ Candle is extinguished and the cross is draped in a black shroud.

Holy Saturday/Black Saturday or Easter Vigil:  This is a vigil symbolically kept at the sealed tomb of Jesus.  The tone is one of sadness as his passion is remembered and scriptural accounts of his burial are read.  Extended worship services filled with lengthy scripture readings often take place into the night.  At midnight, the Christ Candle is relit (often via an outdoor bonfire and processed into the sanctuary) to welcome Easter morning.  Traditionally, many baptisms are held during this vigil so that new Christians begin their journey of faith as resurrected people on Easter Day.

Easter Sunday:  Jesus is alive again!  Easter, of course, is the remembrance of Jesus’ resurrection and the joyous realization that life triumphs over death.  Through his resurrection we all participate in the new life that he offers not only in the life to come but in the here and now.

At our church, we hope you will join us for Palm Sunday ecumenical activities in Melrose!  We will gather for a breakfast at First Baptist Church at 8:30 a.m. followed by a Palm Procession down Main Street to the Ell Pond Gazebo where we will have a Blessing of the Palms.  This will be followed by Palm Sunday Worship in our Sanctuary at 10:00 a.m.

We will also worship together on Maundy Thursday at 7:00 p.m. at our church as we host our brothers and sisters from the Highlands Congregational Church.  This service will combine both Holy Thursday and Good Friday.

And, of course, we welcome you to celebrate Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday at 10:00 a.m.!

A busy, wonderful, and meaningful week lies ahead!

See you in church,

–Rev. Dominic